Academic Programs 

Major Figures in Theology: John Wesley (TH 671)
Fall 2007

This is a course on the theology, ministry, and historical significance of John Wesley. Wesleyan Christianity became a formidable force for social change in the 18th and 19th centuries as a form of popular Christianity that appealed to women, the working classes, and the enslaved Africans of the Americas. Despite his historical importance, John Wesley remains mysterious in many ways, partly because his life’s work was not so much the creation of a body of religious thought, but the embodiment of his theology in a new religious movement. Students will take part in the quest to understand the “historical Wesley” and his theology through reading and responding to the sermons, hymns, and historical narratives penned by John and Charles Wesley. In keeping with the ecumenical and interfaith emphases of Hartford Seminary, we will pay particular attention to the conflicts that gave rise to Wesleyan Methodism in the hope of learning more about sectarian conflict in a situation of increasing pluralism.


Meeting Day, Time and Dates:
Tuesdays from 7:00 to 9:20 pm, beginning September 11th

Brian C. Clark
PhD Candidate, Boston University; Adjunct Instructor in History of Christian Thought, Hartford Seminary.

Contact information:
Phone: (860) 298-8496


Course Syllabus

Course Objectives:

By the end of this course, the student will:

  1. Enjoy greater understanding of John Wesley’s historical setting, personality, and role in the rise of Evangelicalism.
  2. Be able to explain the essential elements of John Wesley’s theology and how his thought relates to the theology of his rivals.
  3. Acquire fluency in understanding and responding to John Wesley’s sermons.
  4. Come to appreciate the social, intellectual and artistic tasks involved in creating a popular religious movement, along with the temptations of sectarianism.

Course Requirements:

  1. Attendance and informed participation in class sessions. (1/3 of final grade). Class participation will demand diligent reading, yet will be structured to make discussions accessible to students who are normally less confident in sharing their opinions. The participation grade includes the requirement that once during the semester, a student will be begin the discussion of a Wesley sermon by reading his or her “sermon response.”
  2. Preparation of “sermon responses.” (2/3 of final grade). Each week, with exceptions as noted, each student will be required to prepare an analysis of one of the sermons of John Wesley assigned for that week. These assignments should be double-spaced, with a normal margin and 12 point font. The assignments are of a particular kind, and are divided into two parts:
    • The first part of the assignment requires the student to spend about two pages summarizing the sermon. This analysis must include the title of the sermon, the page numbers in our edition of Wesley’s Sermons, a summary of the sermon’s principal argument(s), Biblical texts, and principal theological concepts. Ambitious students may want to try to explain the hermeneutics or polemical force of the sermon. Do not let the summary become commentary!
    • In a separate section of the assignment, students are to articulate a theological response of 1-2 pages. Do not let the response rehash the summary!

    Note: This course does not include exams or large written assignments; the workload is evenly spaced and weighted toward the beginning of the semester. Also note that the beginning of the course is more historical and features more secondary readings. The second half of the course is more theological, and most of the reading time in this portion of the course is devoted to Wesley’s sermons.

Required Texts (Available for Purchase):

Richard P. Heitzenrater, Wesley and the People Called Methodists, Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1995. This is the best small-but-scholarly biography of Wesley available, and it places him in historical and theological context.

Albert Outler and Richard Heitzenrater, John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology, Nashville, Abindgon Press, 1991. This edited volume of sermons will be our source for the sermons we analyze each week.

Randy L Maddox, Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology (Kingswood Series), Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1994. This work is considered the primary “textbook” on Wesley’s theology today, since it presents his thought in a systematic and sympathetic form, while making mention of scholarly disagreements over how he is to be interpreted.

Mark A. Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleys, Downer’s Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2003. This book portrays the early years of the Evangelical revival with economy and impartiality; it will aid us in gaining a grasp of Wesley’s place in that story.

Charles Wesley and John R. Tyson, ed., Charles Wesley: A Reader, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1989. This is a thoughtfully organized sourcebook that makes available many of the letters, hymns, sermons and journals of Charles Wesley.

David Hempton, Methodism: Empire of the Spirit, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2005. This book is the best book yet written on the nature, growth, and spread of Methodism.

Recommended Texts (On Reserve in Library and Available for Purchase):

William J. Abraham, Wesley for Armchair Theologians, Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2005. This tiny “handbook” on Wesley constitutes a very accessible and often pugnacious argument about his core concerns and place in Christian History.

Kenneth J. Collins, The Scripture Way of Salvation: The Heart of John Wesley’s Theology, Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1997. This is an explanation of Wesley from the point of view of an Evangelical Methodist trying to refute the claims of more liberal Wesleyans.

Henry D. Rack, Reasonable Enthusiast: John Wesley and the Rise of Methodism (3rd Ed.), London, Epworth Press, 2002. This book is widely considered to be the best and most historically grounded single-volume biography of Wesley.

Course Schedule:

September 11: The Decline of Christendom and Global Spread of Popular Religion

Icebreakers, introductions to the course and instructor, and a lecture.

September 18: Placing John Wesley in Historical Context

Readings: Heitzenrater, 1-32, Selection from Instructor’s Thesis, Noll, 27-75.

Written Work Due: A one-page theological autobiography.

September 25: Oxford Methodism and the Sojourn in Georgia

Readings: Rack, 61-106, Heitzenrater, 33-73, Tyson, 64-66, 81-85, Wesley’s Sermons 23-38.

Written Work: A “sermon response” for one of today’s sermons.

October 2: No Class (Instructor traveling). Begin the heavy reading for next week.

October 9: A Moravian “Conversion” in Whitefield’s Shadow; Anglicans React

Readings: Noll, 76-99, Heitzenrater, 74-96, Selection from Instructor’s Thesis; Tyson, 92-111, 129-158, handout entitled “George Whitefield Comes to Middletown”, Wesley’s Sermons, 39-47, 85-96, 97-110, 123-32, 173-182

Written Work: A “sermon response” for one of today’s sermons.

October 16: Wesleyan Methodism Diverges and Differentiates from Moravianism

Readings: Handout on Zinzendorf’s theology from The Pietist Theolgians, Selection from Instructor’s Thesis; Tyson 260-286; Wesley’s Sermons, 157-171, 193-221.

Written Work: A “sermon response” for one of today’s sermons.

October 23: Wesleyan Methodism vs. Calvinistic Methodism

Readings: Selection from Instructor’s Thesis, Handout, “A Letter to the Rev. Mr. John Wesley in Answer to His Sermon entitled ‘Free Grace’”, Tyson 287-310; Wesley’s Sermons, 49-60, 381-391, 485-492.

Written Work: A “sermon response” for one of today’s sermons.

October 30: Wesley’s Doctrine of God and Theological Anthropology

Readings: Maddox 13-93, Handout, “Divine Relationality in the Christian Tradition.” Wesley’s Sermons, 133-144, 325-334, 431-440, 441-450, 475-484, 523-530, 531-540.

Written Work: A “sermon response” for one of today’s sermons.

November 6: Wesley on Christ and the Holy Spirit

Readings: Maddox, 94-140, Wesley’s Sermons, 145-155, 393-403, 207-222, 255-266, 267-276, 277-286, 381-392.

Written Work: A “sermon response” for one of today’s sermons.

November 13: Wesley on the Way of Salvation

Readings: Maddox, 141-191; Wesley’s Sermons, 69-84, 123-132, 183-192, 371-380, 405-417, 511-522.

Written Work: A “sermon response” for one of today’s sermons.

November 20: No Class. Reading Week.

November 27: Wesley on the “Means of Grace”

Readings: Maddox, 192-229, Wesley’s Sermons, 157-172, 173-182, 223-238, 465-474, 501-510.

Written Work: A “sermon response” for one of today’s sermons.

December 4: Wesley’s Eschatology and Ethics

Readings: Maddox, 230- 256, Wesley’s Sermons, 193-206, 311-324, 347-357, 419-430, 451-464, 493-500, 541-548, 549-557.

Written Work: A “sermon response” for one of today’s sermons.

December 11: Wesleyan Social Teaching Regarding Women and Slavery

Readings: Hempton 55-85, 131-150, Paper by Hempton on Methodism and the Slave Trade, Handout of Wesley’s “Thoughts Upon Slavery.”

Written Work: None Due. If a student has missed a “sermon response” previously due, he or she can compensate for it by submitting a response to Wesley’s “Thoughts Upon Slavery” that follows the same format.

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